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Richard Alston Dance Company
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Author:  David [ Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Richard Alston Dance Company

Out of the Strong, Lie of the Land, Roughcut
Richard Alston Dance Company
The Curve, Leicester; April 5, 2011

David Mead

Watch some offerings these days and you might think that musicality has been long buried when it comes to contemporary dance. The present Place Prize season, which seems to be one anti-dance work after another, is a case in point. I cannot be the only one who sometimes starts to wonder ‘Where is the music?’ and especially ‘Where is the dance?’

For Richard Alston music and dance are inseparable bedfellows though. They do not get much closer than in “Out of the Strong”. Previously danced at The Place under the working title “Even More,” Alston’s choreography conveys the moods inherent in Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata no.6,” itself very much a reflection of the composer’s personal and professional circumstances. The sonata was written in 1939, three years after Prokofiev had returned to Moscow after 16 years living in Paris. He thought he would be better treated there than in France, but instead found himself with no artistic freedom at all, and then a victim of The Great Purge, when artists and composers lived in fear of their lives, and during which he was forced to write works of social realism, including a cantata titled “Hail Stalin.” It was also a time of family turmoil, like most foreigners Prokofiev’s Spanish-born wife Lina was having a particularly problematic time under Stalin’s regime.

In typical Alston fashion, “Out of the Strong” is far from narrative, although there is certainly more than a hint of situation than usual, and not only because the dance is punctuated by the occasional and very natural hug, embrace and playful slap. Pianist Jason Ridgway extracted every ounce of the opening movement’s anger and frustration. Yet in amongst the anguish and strident dance there are moments of lyricism. There is an overwhelming sense of yearning, as if looking to regain a freedom that has been lost.

The dance slowly mellows before, in the second movement, taking on a much lighter, almost playful mood. Andres de Blust Mommaerts and Charlotte Eatock were superb in a duet full of fast spins and sharp changes of direction that reflected the now joyful socre. Highlight of the slow third movement was a moving duet between Jordi Calpe Serrats and Hannah Kidd, before everything came back together in a complex and exhilarating finale that so reflected the composer’s character. The music was played live on stage by Jason Ridgway.

Martin Lawrence’s “Lie of the Land” is equally emotionally expressive, although rather more acerbic. It’s a restless and unsettling and somewhat jagged piece in which a series of solos, duets and trios come and go in response to changes Ned Rorem’s fourth string quartet.

For a finale it would be difficult to beat “Roughcut,” an Alston classic from 1990 that is full of unadulterated vitality and exuberance. Danced to Steve Reich’s pulsing and effervescent New York and Electric Counterpoints it is a busy piece for the whole company.

Both Reich pieces are scored for one live performer (Roger Heaton on clarinet and James Woodrow on guitar) who plays with many pre-recorded layers of himself, thus forming an intricately woven and textural whole full of overlapping canons. Alston makes great use of just such devices in his choreography that is also full of his characteristic use of weight and off balance yet controlled movement. The energy is non-stop. It looks fun to dance and it is certainly fun to watch. Dancers constantly appear and disappear. Groups form and dissolve in seconds. I defy anyone not to be exhilarated by the ride.

As if all that was not enough, at Leicester there was something extra special. The wings had already been flown out when the curtain rose, but as Steve Reich’s pulsating music started the wall behind was taken out too. At the Curve that leaves two huge floor to ceiling windows the whole depth of the stage. While on one side we were treated to a view of a theatre corridor, on the other we could see right through to the street outside, complete with the occasional car and people slowly passing by. As if the music and dance was not expansive enough, the unusual setting and backdrop gave a quite unique sense of space.

“Roughcut” was a breathtaking finale to a celebration of dance. Alston once said that he likes to make “dances about dancing.” Hurrah to that! From the reception the audience gave his fabulous company they felt the same way. If Alston’s dancers come to a theatre near you, don’t miss them.

This review, with images, will appear later in the magazine.

Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour to Salford, Nottingham, Shrewsbury, Glasgow, Oxford and Woking. See Richard Alston tour dates for details.

Author:  David [ Mon Oct 24, 2011 3:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Richard Alston Dance Company

Richard Alston at Home
Richard Alston Dance Company
The Place, London; October 19, 2011

David Mead

These days, Richard Alston is very much seen as a contemporary classicist among British dance makers. As the opening part of his always excellent company’s latest programme showed, though, it was not always so. “Early Days” is a compilation of excerpts dating back to 1969 and all taken from his first ten years choreography. Back then Alston was regarded as something of a rebel and an experimenter. The clips still had impact, right from the opening fragment from “Still Moving Still” in which Elly Braund was mesmerising as she turned and turned with an eight-foot long silver pole rod balanced on her shoulder. The choreography and setting may be spare in “Something to Do”, but there was a wonderful sense of connection between Anneli Binder and Hannah Kidd as they illustrated text by Gertrude Stein read by Alston in person. It concludes with the sentence, “They should move some and they did move some and they did nothing and it was very satisfying.” It says it all. Also included were moments from “Nowhere Slowly”, two sections from “Wildlife”, a duet from “Doublework”, before closing with the exciting and dynamic closing section from “Rainbow Bandit” in which the dance echoes perfectly the spoken word score.

Mozart is often regarded as a difficult composer to choreograph to but, coming right up to date, Alston shows us it does not have to be so. In “Unfinished Business”, danced to the composer’s piano sonata K533, beautifully played live by Jason Ridgway, the dance flows easily. There was a sense of reflection throughout, but the highlight was the Andante, a duet danced by Anneli Binder and Pierre Tappon that was packed with tenderness and emotion, so much so that it really seemed there was a back story here, unusual in Alston’s work. Andres de Blust-Mommaerts was terrific in the Gigue.

Receiving its world premiere, Martin Lawrance’s “Other Than I” is full of Alston’s choreographic influence, but with a somewhat more dramatic, emotional edge. Binder and Kidd, both outstanding all evening, were nicely paired, effectively dancing as each other’s double.

The programme was completed by a revival of Robert Cohan’s 1989 “In Memory”, a dance for four men and two women originally made for London Contemporary Dance Theatre, to Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Viola. It’s a piece full of powerful characterisation. There was a strong sense of competition yet camaraderie among the men as they show off to each other. Proceedings are interrupted by the arrival of two women. Their dances with their partners are full of clinging and a lack of fulfilment as emotions are not fully returned.

The “At Home” programme was preceded by a showing of three new works by choreographers Rachel Lopez de la Nieta, Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas, and Tony Adigun, all using Alston’s “Wildlife” as a starting point. Presented under the banner “Richard Alston takes Cover”, the three works will be part of the EDge tour in 2012. Adigun’s “Unleashed” stood head and shoulders above the others in terms of performance quality and choreography, the latter making impressive use of his preferred hip-hop style. Lopez de la Nieta’s “Rite for Richard” and Urzelai and Solinas’ as yet untitled piece had moments, but even allowing for the fact these were very much works in development, they looked a long way from the finished article. Attempts at humour were weak, bringing little reaction from the audience and, as is becoming tiresome at The Place, there was the usual unconvincing use of voice.

Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour to Truro, Brighton, Swansea, Cheltenham and Edinburgh. See for details.

Author:  David [ Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Richard Alston Dance Company

Roughcut, Lie of the Land, Ceremony of Carols
Richard Alston Dance Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; 29 February, 2012

Charlotte Kasner

It is no mean feat to have been at the top of one’s game in the uncertainty of the arts world as Richard Alston has since the late ‘60s.

The opening work, “Roughcut”, was made more than two decades ago for Rambert but looks as fresh as the day it was premiered. The Company danced to a person with fluidity and vigour as the movement ebbed and flowed on several levels. The transition from floor work to middle and upper levels was seamless, punctuated by a crooked elbow here and a bent back there, with the occasional small jump. Dancers stretched and contracted, met and parted in a work that was exactly the right length to leave the audience wanting more.

Music was by the grand old man of minimalism, Steve Reich, a clarinetist and an electric guitarist playing against a tape; all fiendishly difficult, not least because of the repetition. It was perfectly suited to the work, never descending into dullness or naval gazing as many of his later imitators did and suddenly shifting key and rhythm when least expected.

Martin Lawrance’s “Lie of the Land” is another kettle of fish entirely. Relationships flare and fade to a background of Ned Rorem’s 4th String Quartet which is alternately elegiac and manic. Towards the end it seemed to quote Shostakovich’s DSCH musical signature, consciously or otherwise, which inevitably affected the interpretation. These were relationships that were clouded with tragedy and conflict, leaving the impression that all were doomed. The elegiac sections used elongated shapes and stretches, arabesques and lunges. The faster sections were almost antagonistic, dancers almost bouncing off each other.

The final work of the evening was on personally familiar territory as I sang Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” for a group of dancers from London Contemporary Dance at St John’s Smith Square more than thirty years ago. From memory, the dance then was vigorous and had a Brueghel-like design. Alston's latest work, premiered earlier this month could not have been more different. Dancers were dressed in white trousers and tunics in various shades if red from scarlet to maroon. Like so many holly berries they sketched out the nativity story, at one stage raising a bench or manger symbolically to form a cross. It was difficult to appreciate the dance fully as the purple-clad choristers were ranged across the back of the stage. The clashing of colours and utterly unsubtle conducting of the choirmaster was distracting. Why not arrange the choristers to one side, as was the excellent harpist?

Indeed the choristers were the biggest disappointment of the evening. The opening Hodie was somewhat ragged and sibilant. Maybe it was nerves, but the conductor’s style was so extravagant that it is difficult to believe that they couldn’t follow him. Tuning was poor and breath control lacking in places at first, although it improved. The opening solo was as flat as a pancake and sounded unsupported. I heard more than one member of the audience muttering that they would have preferred a good recording; they had a point.

It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise invigorating evening and bodes well for the second programme. This company is a delight and good on them for surviving the vicissitudes of arts funding for so long.

Author:  David [ Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:20 am ]
Post subject:  Alston archive

New On-Line Alston Archive

The Richard Alston Dance Company has recently launched a new digital tool for the study of Alston's work:

The online resource has been created to provide dance teachers and students with resource material on the work of Richard Alston, without doubt one of the UK’s most distinguished contemporary dance choreographers. The website features a complete list of Alston’s 130+ pieces, composed from 1968 to today as well as biographies of Alston, and his dancers, and a range of behind-the-scenes documentation. Descriptions, photographs and videos of pieces will continue to be sourced and added to the site. With this wealth of information, the website will also be fascinating for audience members who are interested in the work of the company.

Features include original video footage (including Headlong, 1973), new resources for Gypsy Mixture (2004), and a selection of films exploring the process of how Alston crafts his work. The aim is to continue to update and add to what is available on the site. already features:

Section 1: Richard: includes biography, photo gallery and interview material

Section 2: Repertoire: includes details for the 130+ pieces he has choreographed over more than 40 years, includes video footage, photographs and descriptions as well as resource and worksheets for schools.

Section 3: Music: explores Richard’s relationship to music as well as information about playing live for dance class and performance

Section 4: Costume: videos looking behind the scenes in the wardrobe department

Section 5: Lighting: includes technical terms and information about how the technical crew work during a performance

Section 6: Creation: videos that giving an insight into Richard’s choreographic process

Section 7: Rehearsal: a typical dancers’ day, information about what it’s like to be a Rehearsal Director, and Healthy Dancers’ Booklet

Section 8: On tour information about what it’s like to go on tour as well as a map showing where the company are going next

Section 9: Behind the Scenes: learn more about who works for the company and catch up on latest news

Section 10: FAQs: ask the company your own questions and read past questions and answers

Author:  David [ Mon Apr 30, 2012 6:36 am ]
Post subject:  Autumn Tour 2012

Richard Alston Dance Company has announced details of its Autumn 2012 tour. Alongside revivals of Shimmer, Unfinished Business and Roughcut, the tour will include two new works by Richard Alston and Rehearsal Director Martin Lawrance.

While some of the tour dates are still being agreed, the following venues are confirmed. Tickets will be on sale shortly:

Wed 3 - Sat 6 October: Robin Howard Dance Theatre, London
Tue 9 October: G Live, Guildford
Tue 16 & Wed 18 October: Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Tue 23 October: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Tue 6 November: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Tue 13 & Wed 14 November: Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe

Author:  David [ Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Richard Alston Dance Company

‘The Devil in the Detail’, ‘Shimmer’, ‘Madcap’
Richard Alston Dance Company
Derngate, Northampton, UK; October 16, 2012

David Mead

Richard Alston Dance Company in Madcap. Photo Tony Nandi.jpg
Richard Alston Dance Company in Madcap. Photo Tony Nandi.jpg [ 36.46 KiB | Viewed 8368 times ]

As contemporary dance continues to manifest itself in ever more disparate ways, it’s reassuring to come back to the idea occasionally that dance should be realisation of music in movement. It’s a notion that has served Richard Alston well for over 40 years of producing hugely watchable, sophisticated dance.

Alston’s “The Devil in the Detail” is about as musical as it comes. Set to seven Scott Joplin rags played wonderfully by Jason Ridgway that propel the dancers back and forth across the stage, it has an infectious joyousness and lightness that cannot help but put a smile on the face. It’s as if the dancers have been let off the leash. We see them as individuals as they tease and flirt with each other, and have a good time.

Alston and his dancers are masters at making the difficult look easy, and that’s certainly true here. The steps are sometimes fast and intricate as they play with the rhythms in the music. The attention to detail is striking. Every section is packed with delights, although a favourite has to be the Stoptime Rag duet, danced here by Pierre Tappon and Nathan Goodman. It has a sense of friendly competition about it as each seems to say, “anything you can do…” When it came to leaps, though, there was only ever going to be one winner. Tappon’s springs into the air were so big, clean and effortless that on several occasions the audience quite audibly gasped.

As utterly engaging as Alston’s dance is, in “Shimmer”, danced to selections from Ravel, it’s the costumes that constantly take the eye. All the dancers, men and women, are in glittering meshed dresses reminiscent of spiders’ webs designed by Julian Macdonald that really do shimmer in the stage lights. This is Alston in more deeply thoughtful mood. “Shimmer was originally made in memory of art critic Bryan Robertson and reflects both his lively enthusiasm for art and the sadness felt at his loss. There’s a strong emphasis on classicism throughout. It starts all bright and light. In the opening duet to Sonatine, Hannah Kidd and Pierre Tappon were like two fireflies dancing in the half-light, their skittish movement sometimes interrupted by juicy lifts. But as things progress there are bright and light on the surface, but there are hints of different moods to come. Sure enough, later duets to pieces from Miroirs and a deeply moving solo are altogether more sad; at times even haunting. Jason Ridgway’s playing was again exemplary.

Completing the programme, Martin Lawrance’s “Madcap” is right at the other end of the dance and music spectrum. It’s a full-blown attack on the senses. Julia Wolfe’s music, composed for Bang on a Can All-Stars is fast and frantic, full of aggressive guitars and violent screams. The high-octane, edgy dance is equally powerful and reminiscent of an urban wasteland.
Nathan Goodman in Madcap. Photo Tony Nandi.jpg
Nathan Goodman in Madcap. Photo Tony Nandi.jpg [ 29.57 KiB | Viewed 8368 times ]

Nathan Goodman’s opening solo was packed with intense energy. High speed movement with more than a hint of the street was suddenly and constantly interrupted by moments of absolute stillness. His strength and control was extraordinary. It then opens out into a breathless dance for seven, who never let up for a moment. There are hints of fights and chases. At one point the dancers repeatedly drop to the floor and scuttle forward on all fours. Then, out of nowhere comes a beautiful, yet rather dark and menacing duet for Liam Riddick and Nancy Nerantzi. It’s all quite stunning and a real treat. If you get a chance, don’t miss it.

Richard Alston Dance Company continues on tour. Remaining 2012 UK performances are at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cheltenham and High Wycombe, while in US they are at Montclair State University. For full details see

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Richard Alston Dance Company

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Richard Alston Dance Company at Montclair State University in New Jersey for the New York Observer. (Scroll past the Alvin Ailey review.)

NY Observer

Author:  David [ Mon Oct 14, 2013 9:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Richard Alston Dance Company

My thoughts on the opening night of Richard Alston Dance Company's UK tour:


The company are at the Barbican in London soon. Don't miss them!

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